Funny Cars are blowing up engines and bodies regularly. Too often, the majority of both Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars don’t make it down the 1,000-foot course under full power. Two-time NHRA Funny Car champion Matt Hagan has apologized to fans for a lousy show.
Some drivers are grousing, publicly and privately, about it. Others figure it’s the new normal.
What the sanctioning body did in April was change the traction compound the Safety Safari sprays on the racing surface. The compound-to-alcohol ratio has changed from 75 percent compound and 25 percent alcohol to 65 percent compound and 35 percent alcohol. The change reportedly received, however grudgingly, the blessing of the Professional Racers Organization.
The purpose was to rein in speeds that had risen to nearly 340 mph on race tracks that were built decades ago and are increasingly less tolerant of flourishing technology. After all, the NHRA shortened the course from a quarter-mile to 1,000 feet for the nitro classes following Scott Kalitta’s fatal accident in mid-2008. The respective national speed records 10 years ago were 333.66 mph and 336.15 mph. Today, the records are 336.57 for Top Fuel and 339.87 for Funny Car.
Safety and expenses (and probably legal liability) were key considerations in this latest move.
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Jack Beckman, the 2012 Funny Car champion, sees both sides. He said, “Listen, this is not somebody rolling the dice and deciding what to do. There was a lot of due consideration going into this. A lot of the team owners would like them to cut down on track prep simply because then we won’t be able to accelerate the cars as hard, and it won’t be as hard on parts. That makes sense.
“I know that for Goodyear, there’s a concern over the escalating speeds,” Beckman continued. “And unless you want to do a major rules change, track prep can slow the cars down. We have to balance that with putting on a great show. There are a couple of things that you can do, but how much is that going to cost each team? We can’t lose these independent teams. Any rules change is going to have unintended consequences. It’s going to have a cost tied to it. It’s not an easy call to make.”
Hagan, who is Beckman’s Don Schumacher Racing teammate, isn’t quite as gratuitous.
“There’s a lot less grip out there and that’s why everyone’s smoking the tires and blowing up,” he said. “Hopefully, they can get this situation figured out.”
Then he wrote in a Twitter post, “I’ll say it cause no one else will say it. @NHRA should be embarrassed for the show that we put on in Charlotte. I’m very sorry to all our fans that paid to see that. @NHRA has changed track prep up to slow the cars down and end result is tire smoke, explosions and a poor show!”
Later, the usually diplomatic Hagan said, “I said what I had to say. I don’t have the answers. I just thought it needed to be addressed.”
As far as other racers are concerned, the NHRA has addressed the matter and teams need to live with it. Another two-time Funny Car champion, Cruz Pedregon, said: “There are guys out here complaining about the track. I say go fix your clutch and stop crying about it.”
Top Fuel dominator Steve Torrence points out that his crew chief, Richard Hogan, had no problem adapting to the changes. In fact, Torrence has won in an assortment of conditions: in 70-degree weather on a 98-degree track and in 90-degree weather on a 128-degree surface, at sea level and at Las Vegas’ 2,100-foot elevation, and twice in traditional two-by-two racing and twice in the four-wide format.
Josh Peterson, NHRA’s vice-president of racing operations, claims NHRA officials are satisfied. He says fans have seen better side-by-side racing, the sanctioning body has seen an increase in fuel teams participating and teams have seen less parts attrition.
Drivers express concern for the fans, but the NHRA keeps announcing one “sellout crowd” after another.
So several questions arise. Is concern about the fans and their experience at the race track insincere? Do racers really want to slow the cars? Is the track preparation truly the problem? Is this the new normal, or is it the old normal? What exactly is going on in the nitro ranks?